SHOPS and businesses could join forces to give Bradford city centre a £2.5 million boost, if an ambitious new plan wins a local referendum.

A team of business leaders, led by Broadway manager Ian Ward, hopes to take Bradford’s regeneration to the next level by turning the city centre into a business improvement district (BID) funded by a local levy.

But to do so, they have to win a vote among the businesses themselves.

Mr Ward, who chaired a similar improvement district in Liverpool when he managed a shopping centre there, said: “In my opinion, Bradford is crying out for a business improvement district.”

The five-year deal would see business owners within the city centre paying a small levy on their rates bill, to raise a pot of around £500,000 a year.

The businesses themselves would then decide how it is spent, from decking shopping streets out with hanging baskets to putting on big events to draw in the crowds.

Mr Ward said: “In these times of tough competition, it is vitally important for Bradford to maintain and strengthen its key position in the region.

“To do that via a business improvement district, businesses need to set the goals and lead from the front, ensuring that the city is consistently cleaner, safer, more vibrant and better-promoted to attract more footfall.”

He is chairing a new development group which will take the idea forward, with the support of deputy chairmen Dr Trevor Higgins, of Bradford Breakthrough, and Sandy Needham, of West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

There are currently more than 270 business improvement districts in the UK, including one set up in Keighley around 18 months ago.

It is chaired by Graham Benn, who runs the town-centre shop DIY Solutions.

He said the Keighley BID had used its pot of cash mainly to fund activities in the town, and the next event would see a temporary artificial beach created in a local shopping centre.

Mr Benn said they had seen a noticeable rise in footfall since the initiative began.

He said: “The hardest thing right at the beginning is convincing potential members of the BID to get involved and to understand what the potential is with the pot of money.

“My advice to Bradford is to keep going, it’s worth it. It is hard at the beginning, but it’s worth it.”

In Keighley, nearly 80 per cent of businesses had voted in favour of the idea, but it has also had its detractors.

Janet Croden, owner of Keighley’s World War Two themed cafe Forteas, was threatened with prison last year after refusing to pay her £97 levy.

At the time, she described the demand for money as the “last straw that broke my back” and was eventually forced to pay it in instalments.

Val Summersales, secretary of the Bradford District Chamber of Trade, said she supported the idea of a business improvement district for Bradford, but she said it would be for individual members of her traders’ group to vote according to what would be best for them.

She said: “Some people might think this will just pay for things the Council should be doing anyway. It isn’t that. It is for extra things and the Council are supporting it and will stick to everything else they should be doing.

“They won’t be getting away with not doing that, because we will be watching them. They know that.”

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for regeneration at the authority, reiterated this point, saying: “The income raised by a Bradford BID would be spent on the priorities set by Bradford businesses. It would be wholly on top of the core services provided by the Council.”

Bradford’s BID development team is now starting a major consultation with local businesses about the idea of turning the city centre into a business improvement district.

It will begin with a meeting for all city-centre businesses on Thursday, July 20.

Local businesses will also be asked to fill in a survey so the team can gauge the appetite for a business improvement district before they decide whether to hold a referendum.

The survey process will run until October and if people show enough support, there could be a vote on the idea in autumn 2018.

- BUSINESS improvement districts first began in Canada in the 1970s and the idea has since spread worldwide. There are now more than 270 in the UK.

They see a levy placed in businesses in a certain areas, with this money pooled and spent on initiatives designed to boost trade.

To set up a BID, organisers must win a referendum among businesses in the area where the levy would be charged. Those ‘yes’ votes must also correspond to more than 50 per cent of the total rateable value of all votes cast. A BID lasts for five years and to continue it after that time, organisers have to hold another ballot.

The size of Bradford’s levy is yet to be decided. Levies usually set at an extra 1 per cent on business rates, but some areas charge a higher fee. Keighley, for example, charges 1.5 per cent.

The way the money is spent can vary widely. Leeds, for example, has spent its money on a host of initiatives, including a team of 'welcome ambassadors' providing a meet-and-greet service to shoppers, and another team of 'street rangers' who jet-wash chewing gum off the streets.

They also helped to fund a crackdown on street pedlars selling counterfeit goods, organised city-centre events and brightened up the streets with public art installations.